September 26, 2016

TV Talking Heads Weigh In On 16-0 Patriots

By Bruce Allen
[email protected]

Here is a sampling of the reaction from network TV analysts during and after the Patriots 38-35 win over the New York Giants on Saturday night.

NFL Network

Don Shula, a live remote guest on the pregame show when asked by Rich Eisen his thoughts on Bill Belichick:

“He should be given credit for what the Patriots have done. I think Bill is a great coach. The Spygate thing was unfortunate but that is over and done with. That was after the first ballgame of the season. And since then they have been playing with the same rules that everybody else has been playing with. They should be given credit for that. I have known Bill for a long time. I knew his Dad at the Naval Academy. I knew Bill when he was an intern with the Colts when Ted Marchibroda was the head coach. He’s paid his dues. He’s come up the hard way. He had a tough experience in Cleveland. He has rebounded from that and now he is at the top of the coaching profession and he deserves all the recognition he is getting.”

Quotes from the Game Broadcast on NFL Network:

“This is the best way of course to beat the Patriots. Keep that man on the sideline.”

-Bryant Gumbel while the Giants are driving on their opening drive and cameras show QB Tom Brady on the bench.

“How often do you get three NFL records fall on one play?”

-Gumbel after Randy Moss catches a touchdown pass from Tom Brady five seconds into the 2nd quarter. Brady ties Peyton Manning single season touchdown passing record (49); Moss ties Jerry Rice single season touchdown receptions (22); and Patriots break single-season scoring record.

“That is ticky-tack at best and referees can’t dance.”

-Cris Collinsworth on the official throwing a flag after Randy Moss touchdown celebration.

“Looked like a Moe, Larry, Curly deal.”

-Gumbel after cameras catch Patriots Vince Wilfork sticking his fingers in the eye of Giants running back Brandon Jacobs.

“For Vince Wilfork that is pretty nasty right there. There’s no question on the intent of that.”

-Collinsworth on the Wilfork flap.

“That looked like intent to annoy, not to injure.”

Gumbel on the Wilfork flap.

“The Patriots are facing their largest deficit of the season.”

-Gumbel after Manning hooks up with Plaxico Burress to put the Giants up by 12 with 9:12 left in the 3rd quarter.

“The clock for Tom Brady is getting a little quicker now.”

-Collinsworth on Patriots QB Tom Brady being hurried by the Giants pass rush forcing him to speed up getting rid of the ball.

“He is one of the unsung heroes in the NFL.”

-Collinsworth after Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker makes a key block on Maroney TD run.

“Hold the champagne in Miami, it’s not over yet.”

-Gumbel after Patriots running back Laurence Maroney scores to get the Patriots back to a one score game.

“Big money guys make that play right there. That is a killer drop.”

-Collinsworth on Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss dropping a long pass.

“And Brady and Moss hook up on a record catch.”

-Gumbel on Tom Brady’s 65-yard TD pass to Randy Moss.

“It’s absolutely incredible what he has been able to do.”

-Collinsworth on Tom Brady, after he threw his 50th touchdown pass of the season.

Booth Nugget: Gumbel notes Patriots QB Tom Brady brought a video camera on this trip and notes it is the first time Brady has brought a video camera to a regular season game.

Statistical Graphic with 7 minutes remaining in 4th quarter:

Patriots have an 83-1 regular season record when leading in the 4th quarter.

“Make that 22 unanswered from the Patriots.”

-Gumbel after a Laurence Maroney touchdown puts the Patriots up by 10 with less than five minutes left.

“Yes. It’s a great achievement; I don’t want to say that [about going 16-0]. But when you are comparing it to the Dolphins you can’t.”

-Collinsworth after Gumbel asked him if the Patriots have to win the Super Bowl before they can match the Dolphins success of 1972.

“Now you get to watch the clock tick a little bit and dream about what is about to be.”

-Collinsworth after Patriots Mike Vrabel recovers the onside kick with 1:04 left, virtually sealing the Patriots victory and 16-0 season.

“Their final hurdle may have been their toughest.”

-Gumbel on the Giants making the Patriots earn their final regular season victory.

FOX NFL Sunday

New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau joined FOX NFL SUNDAY via satellite to answer a few questions following the Pats becoming the first team to reach 16-0 in the regular season. Co-host Terry Bradshaw asked what the one difference is in this team compared to others that the 18-year veteran has played on: “The structure. Bill Belichick has done a great job of going about it his way. He makes sure that there aren’t any grey areas. If you need an answer, Belichick has it.”

Analyst Jimmy Johnson on the possibility of the Patriots losing a game: “If they lose a game now, it won’t just be disappointing. It will be devastating. Bill Belichick cannot allow himself to be a fan of this team. He can’t tell them how great they are. He has to be the bad guy and demand that they get better.”

CBS – The NFL Today

Interview With New England Linebacker Tedy Bruschi On Going Undefeated In Regular-Season

(On feelings after game)

Bruschi: I was glad it was over and that we had won. There was an incredible sense of accomplishment. But I think this week more than any other, there was a lot more pressure. In our locker room we talked about it (going undefeated) a little bit this week. We acknowledged what we could accomplish, in being the first team that ever went 16-0. It was like a relief. It was like a relief, and at the same time just a sense of, “Wow, we did something that’s never been done before.”

(On whether there was any doubt when Pats were down by 12 in third period)

Bruschi: I don’t think we had time to let doubt creep in, because I think the experience we have that we have been in many close games before, in bigger games before, we focus on what’s next. Those are the things we were thinking about. We think about. We don’t think about are we going to lose this game or not. We’re worrying about what we have to do next.

(On having to go 19-0 for a “successful season”)

Bruschi: I think that has to be talked about. I think regular-season has to be the two words that have to be emphasized because what we did was in the regular-season. And we do have bigger goals that we want to accomplish. We want to win the Super Bowl. We want to perform well in the playoffs. We recognize what we did was historic, and to enjoy that for a couple of days, and maybe take a day-or-two to accept all those phone calls and accept all the congratulatory wishes. And then put it behind us, and then move on.

(On message to Don Shula and ’72 Dolphins)

Bruschi: I think the first thing I would say is we have a tremendous amount of respect for that team, for what they were able to accomplish. Of course, we’ve matched them now, for the regular-season. But I think they would tell you, first and foremost, that it matters what you do in the post-season. Every time we talk about the 1972 Dolphins, it’s something to where we talk about they were the best team in NFL history.

QUICK HITS

(On Patriots going undefeated)

Dan Marino: If you asked them, to a man [they would say], 16-0 is great, celebrate that, but it’s all about finishing – going 19-0 and winning that Super Bowl.

Bill Cowher: Kudos to Tom Coughlin and the Giants. You gained confidence with that game going into the playoffs. But the New England Patriots, they don’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over. They put tremendous pressure on teams to play the perfect game and I believe the only thing that can stop the New England Patriots is divine intervention by the weather gods.

Shannon Sharpe: I don’t want to go back to pre-free agency, but when you talk about free agency, I look at the Dallas Cowboys of the mid-‘90s and this team. I think that mid-1990s Dallas Cowboys team could give this team a run for their money. But offensively, this is the best football team I’ve seen with my own two eyes. And I have good eyes.

(More on Patriots going 19-0)

Sharpe: For them to go 19-0, they could possibly have to play a 14-2 team in the regular season in Indianapolis; a14-2 Cowboys; a 13-3 Green Bay Packers; a 12-4 Jacksonville Jaguars. So for them to run the table, they will have completed the greatest season, I think, in the National Football League history.

ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown

What’s Most Impressive about the Patriots 16-0 Season…

Tom Jackson: “The Patriots played their best ball in the fourth quarter (against the Giants) … Last night they asked him (Tom Brady) to throw the ball 43 times. He didn’t make a single mistake during the course of the night and that’s what he’s done all year.”

Mike Ditka: “They’re flexible and they make adjustments.”

Keyshawn Johnson: “They stayed on course. The task at hand was to win all their football games and break some records. They did that and went 16-0. Now they have to move on and try to win the big one. … I would rather be 14-2 and losing the Super Bowl or the playoffs than having this type of pressure on me. If they had lost that football game last night (against the Giants), that pressure wouldn’t be on them. They could play two games and lose the Super Bowl and everyone would say they had a good season. When you set the bar as high as they have and then you go out and lose, I may have to get off the bus.”

Emmitt Smith: “This is a true testament to the mental toughness they have, the great physical condition they’re in and their focus. … Failure is not even an option for them. They have loaded the ship, they have left the port and now they’ve landed. They got off the boat, burnt the boat off and looked back and said we can’t go back. They have accepted the challenge and the calling from history. They think they’re time is right now and there’s no looking back.”

On Tom Brady and the Patriots Record-Breaking Season …

Johnson: “I look at him (Tom Brady) now as the face of the National Football League. He’s elevated in my eyes past Peyton Manning. He’s got all the records now, in terms of passing Peyton Manning. He’s got three football championships and will probably put MVP on his resume. He’s a celebrity quarterback, but still winning football games. A couple of years ago it was all about (Peyton) Manning, but right now it’s all about Brady.”

Jackson: “My perception of Tom Brady hasn’t changed. He’s always been a great quarterback and has won three championships, but my perception of the football teams has changed. When I look at them now, there’s a bit of a chippiness to them…and at some point it’s a negative form. That little bit of chippiness might cost them in the end on the field.”

Hall of Fame Dolphins Coach Don Shula Joined the Show Live from the Dolphins Stadium Giving his Opinion on the 2007 Patriots

On the Giants vs. Patriots game …

“It was a real credit to the National Football League. The way the Giants went out to play. It was a meaningless game to them, but they went out with the idea to play the best game they could play and knocking the Patriots down from their perfect season.”

What has impressed him the most about the 2007 Patriots …

“(Against the Ravens, Eagles and Colts), in all three of these games, they were down and behind, but they kept their poise and knew they had the confidence to make plays at the end.”

On the Patriots repeating the undefeated 1972 Dolphins season…

“You have to forget about 16-0 because each game now is sudden death. 16-0 won’t mean much if they get beat in he playoffs and don’t win the Super Bowl … That’s what’s going to make it a meaningful season, going 19-0.”

Day Off Declared

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

I’m calling an official Fan’s Day Off. Go ahead, get out of here.

The storm clouds in my head this morning might have played a role in this decision. Still, I stand by it. Or maybe I should recline by it – I have to pace myself today. If you’re anything like me, you do too.

We surely need at least one day to absorb everything we saw last night – the perfect season, the records for points, differential, touchdown passes and catches. We surely need at least one day to recover from the New York Giants.

I’ll tell you – you never know how much an undefeated season means to you until somebody threatens to yank it away at the last minute. I feigned indifference to this perfection for most of the last month, but when the Giants took at twelve point lead to start the second half, I howled like a tween with no Hannah Montana tickets. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I freaked.

But that’s what made it all so great, and so unforgettable. Bloodied and bowed, their perfect season slipping away, the Patriots showed an unprecedented national television audience (three networks) exactly what they were made of. Once again, with their margin of error at its slimmest, when every little thing counted the most, the Patriots made every play.

I’m sure somebody will try to tell us that last night proves how beatable the Patriots are, but let me say preemptively – whoever it is, they’re nuts. I think it proves just the opposite. The Cowboys, the Colts, the Eagles, the Ravens, and now the Giants – they all had the unbeaten Patriots right where they wanted them, yet not a single one could close the deal.

You see weakness in that? I see strength. The kind of strength that’s made history, and may yet again.

In the meantime, in the immortal words of Pepper Johnson, get your rest.

Patriots Roundtable

logoby the Patriots Daily Staff
[email protected]

The day has arrived. Just one more Giant step to a perfect regular season.

On an occasion such as this, it seemed only right to query our favorite group of yahoos – the PD Roundtable gang – for their thoughts as their team stands at the brink of history.

You’ve all been Patriots fans for a long time. You’ve seen the Pats as the worst team in football, and you’ve seen them as the best. But this Saturday, the Patriots could become only the fourth team in NFL history to go undefeated in the regular season, and the first with a sixteen game schedule. As a long time fan, what are your thoughts as the Patriots try to make history tonight?

Bruce Allen: It’s pretty surreal at this point. I’ve followed the team since the mid 1980’s, but haven’t ever been a season ticket holder, as some of you are, and thus wasn’t sitting in the stands for some of those tough seasons over at the old Foxboro Stadium. One of my friends spent his one and only season as a season ticker holder during the 2-14 1992 season of Dick MacPherson and Hugh Millen. He wishes he had hung on for a few more seasons.

The Patriots have had some good teams over the years leading up to the Tom Brady era, but we couldn’t possible be prepared for what this season has brought thus far and could potentially bring over the next 6 weeks or so. When I was a kid, I idolized the Bird-era Celtics. 1986 was the closest to perfection that I had ever seen in a sports franchise as that group rolled through the regular season and playoffs. This Patriots team can surpass all of that and literally be perfect in the end. It’s mind-boggling.

I’m really trying not to get ahead of myself here with this team, as I am under no illusions that the postseason is going to be a cakewalk for the Patriots. They will face some very talented, very motivated squads who are capable of ending the season short of the ultimate goal.

A win on Saturday will mark the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history. It’s a first step towards history and something no team has ever accomplished. We should enjoy and recognize just what an amazing accomplishment this would be, but also of course keep mind there is more to accomplish.

Dan Snapp: What does it tell you that the other two teams with perfect seasons (Browns and Bears, right?) don’t immediately roll off our tongues? Other than that both did it half a century ago, the common trait was both lost their respective title games. Sixteen-and-oh means nothing without 19-0. So whatever pause we take after the accomplishment will be momentary.

I really appreciate you guys, longtime fans who know what it’s like to trudge through seasons like the Rust or McPherson years, but also revel in years like ’76 or ’85. Yes Virginia, there was Patriots life prior to 1993. I think that contrast allows us to be all the more appreciative.

I never thought something like this would happen. When Robert Kraft bought the team, he was full of optimistic bromides that we only half-believed. His well-publicized spats with Bill Parcells had us suspecting the worst: that he was a meddlesome owner to whom no real lasting success would come. But everything he promised has come to fruition, and then some. Long live Robert Kraft!

After the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, the standards changed completely. It was Super Bowl or Bust. But it was never multiple, consecutive blowouts, stat explosions or perfect seasons. We’ve already been so spoiled by this franchise, and now this?

2007 is the “Cake and Eat It Too” season. So long as they close the deal.

No wonder everybody else hates us.

Tim Jordan: It’s really exciting, but I will need a truck load of prescription sedatives for any playoff games. This amazing season has raised the stakes for everyone.

Greg Doyle: You know Bruce, Tim and Dan all said it better than I could, but I had similar thoughts after last week’s game but before you even asked this question. And I thought about it in context of my own personal history (which is very similar to every other long time fan’s) of watching this team. And it is amazing, incredible, whatever adjective you want to come up with when considering the ups and downs (many downs) of this very same franchise I have loved following most of my life. I’ll never forget 2001, that was a magic ride I never thought possible. And I admit, though I am still a very big fan and close follower of the team, I could never work up again the passion I felt leading up to the first championship. I just think those feeling are never able to be duplicated by a second or third or fourth championship following shortly thereafter. Not to say one doesn’t appreciate it and the work and skill it takes to be that good. But still, there is nothing like the first time.

But I think some of those 2001 feelings will be rekindled as it sinks in what a special, amazing and difficult accomplishment this is, if they are to do it. And it needs to be followed by a championship if we are to truly remember the accomplishment in its best possible light. But I think the first step, really, on that ride for fans will come in watching something historic and great happen Saturday to their favorite team.

Kevin Thomas: After the ’05 Colts finally lost a game in week 15, I felt that the undefeated NFL season had become one of those accomplishments that belonged to a different era, and would likely never be matched in the modern league–like the 30-win season for a baseball pitcher, or Chamberlain’s 100 point game.

It seems to me that the league is set up to prevent this. No team is that much more or less talented than any other team. Injuries happen. Lapses in focus and concentration happen. Fluke plays happen. And if a team does survive those unavoidable pittfalls, and makes it into December without a loss, generally they will have their playoff seed locked up, and will be left with nothing of real significance to play for. Reading some of the comments from the players this week, it’s clear to me that the chase for the 16-0 season has been a primary motivator for this Patriots team. Good for them. This would be a special accomplishment, and I think it’s great that they can get as excited about it as many of the fans are.

As for the broader historical context as a Patriots fan, I agree with what everyone else has said. I don’t think its necessarily unusual that a team like the Patriots, with their turbulent past, has become the league’s model franchise. That’s not unprecedented. Just look at the Steelers before 1970, or, for recent examples of franchises going in the other direction, look at the Dolphins and 49ers. What I think we should be most thankful for is that the glory days of this franchise are occuring here, in Boston, and not in some other part of the country. We dodged a pretty huge bullet in that respect.
 
Scott Benson: Exactly, Kevin, and that’s why my mind goes back to the last game of the 1993 regular season, when Bledsoe hit Timpson to beat the Dolphins in overtime to knock Don Shula out of the playoffs. That was at the height of concern that the team would soon move to St. Louis, and as I watched the wild celebration that was touched off by the winning score, I remember a sense of dread that I was watching the last moments of the New England Patriots. It wasn’t more than a few minutes later that – boom – my power went out. An omen? I looked out the window at the rest of the neighborhood and saw nothing but darkness. I felt nothing but darkness.

Then my dad called.

He frequently did in those days, usually right after the game. We’d talk about what the Patriots did right, or more often, what they did wrong. Sometimes we’d get going and I could hear my mother on the other end of the phone telling him to settle down. This from the woman who had to leave the room anytime it was third down because it made her ‘nervous’.

No matter. We’d always finish those calls on an up note, with hope. They’ll be better next week. That was my dad in a nutshell, really. 

I learned to love the Pats from him. He took me to a game, and that alone would have done it, but then the following week he sat me down in front of the television to watch them again, and then again the next week, and then again and again and again, for most every Sunday over the next decade. Me, on the floor in front of the set, and him and my mother, behind me, in the matching chairs they bought from Treworgy’s. You know, back then there was no guarantee that the Pats would even be on TV, but in my mind’s heart, we watched every game there, together. I’ve done exactly what they taught me to do, every week since.

Anyway, there I sat that night in 1993 (actually, January of 1994 to be precise), in the dark, talking with my dad about the Patriots (“I think we’ve really got some receivers now, Dad, between Timpson and Brisby.”), hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be the last time we did so. We talked a bit about a man named Robert Kraft, who had bought the old concrete bowl that was the team’s starter home, and I tried to explain to Dad what I had read in the Globe – that this man, Kraft, might be the only thing standing between St. Louis and us. How the team wouldn’t be free to leave without Kraft’s okay. “He’s just like us, Dad,” I said. “He’s a fan just like us. He doesn’t want them to go any more than we do, and besides, what is the stadium worth with no team? Maybe he’ll do something.”

As usual, we finished on an up note. At least he did, I think – I hung up the receiver and wondered again if I would ever get another post game call from my dad. When the power came back on, I searched out highlights of Bledsoe’s pass to Timpson, watching it on channel after channel, long into the night, in a way holding on to my team, our team, for dear life.

Of course, it wasn’t too long after that Kraft paid the highest price ever paid for a sports franchise, and I remember sitting in the living room of my parents’ apartment, telling my dad that this meant they’re be plenty of football ahead for the both of us.

There wouldn’t be. That spring, on an early evening walk with his wife of more than 50 years, my dad suddenly passed from this world to the next one. Over the next several days, as family and friends came from everywhere to surround us and steady us, we talked about Dad. How fortunate we were, how humbled we were, to have such a man as our father. We talked about all the things he did for us, with his firm hand and soft, sentimental heart. And yeah, we talked about the Patriots, even to the minister who was preparing his eulogy. We couldn’t have talked about my father’s life, about our life, without also talking about his team. Which he made our team, to this day. 

That’s what I think of at times like this. That final post-game phone call in the dark, and all those Sundays, and all those up notes, win or lose. It all comes flooding back, every time, as I watch Adam Vinatieri’s kick sail through the Superdome goal posts, as I hear Gil Santos proclaim “the Patriots…are Super Bowl champions…the best team in the National Football League!”, as I watch confetti rain down on Rodney Harrison, or Gatorade rain down on Bill Belichick and his father. I can’t see those pictures or hear those words, or anything approximating them, without thinking how much they would have meant to my dad.

And every once in awhile, as my wife and I turn off the TV and celebrate another Pats accomplishment that would have been inconceivable on that January night nearly 14 years ago, the damn phone will ring. I smile every time. Still with the up notes.

Enjoy the game, Dad.

Inside Gillette

logoby Christopher Price
[email protected]

The New England running backs are charged with much more than simply running the football. They are often the last line of defense between Tom Brady and an onrushing lineman or linebacker.

Through 15 games, the Patriots have allowed just 20 sacks on the season, the fifth-lowest total in the league. And while much of the success can be attributed to New England’s offensive line — three-fifths of which is headed to the Pro Bowl — a good chunk of it is also thanks to the backfield. In an offense that’s attempted more than 100 more passes than rushes, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans, Kyle Eckel and Sammy Morris have all done their part to keep No. 12 out of harm’s way this season.

But when it comes to blocking, the backs might face their toughest test of the year Saturday night when the Patriots try and finish off a perfect regular season in the Meadowlands. Few teams are able to deliver the sort of consistent pressure on the quarterback than New York can: Led by Osi Umenyiora (13 sacks), Justin Tuck (10 sacks) and Michael Strahan (9 sacks), the Giants lead the league in sacks with 52.

And according to Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, those sacks don’t necessarily come as the result of blitzes.

“They can rush. Those guys — Tuck and Osi and Strahan — they don’t need any help,” Belichick said. “And no, they don’t need to blitz to get there at all. Definitely not. They have plenty of sacks and plenty of pressure on three and four-man rushes, if that’s what they want to do.”

One of the things that makes the New York pass rush unique is its occasional use of four defensive ends along the line, which can make things difficult for offensive linemen. To try and help, expect a lot of support from the running backs. Fullback Heath Evans has a ton of respect for the New York defense, no matter who the Giants decide roll out there Saturday night.

“They get up field,” Evans said of the Giants’ defense, which sacked Philly quarterback Donovan McNabb 12 times back in Week 4. “They have a great defensive line, they have great linebackers — they get a paycheck too. They’re going to create errors, and so I have to be ready to adjust and do my part when I’m called upon to get this running game going.”

For a running back, pass blocking can be a difficult skill to learn, but Faulk is one of the best. The veteran has mastered the art of blocking — and blitz pickup in particular — with a simple philosophy, one he says he’ll lean on Saturday night against New York.

“By being ready for anything,” said Faulk. “You have to be able to do it no matter what the situation is, no matter who the guy facing you is, no matter who you are. It’s you’re job. If you can’t do it, you won’t play.”

FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK

1. Who plays and for how long? With both teams locked into postseason position, it figures the starters will not go wire-to-wire in this one. Who blinks first and yanks their No. 1 offense or defense? And how quickly does the other team follow suit? If the game is in hand late, odds are that Jared Lorenzen and/or Matt Gutierrez are calling signals by the two-minute warning.

2. Records. This may be the one of the most compelling reason to watch on Saturday night — if the Patriots take care of the record books early, it could mean the starters would be pulled sooner rather later. New England is within striking distance of several major records, including passing touchdowns, receiving touchdowns and total points scored in a season. Our favorite may be total point differential – currently, they’re plus-312. Unless disaster strikes, they’ll finish the season comfortably ahead of the old mark of plus-292, set by the 1942 Chicago Bears

3. Speaking of records, who gets No. 22? The Patriots have had 21 different players score touchdowns for them this season, tying an NFL record. If we’re taking bets on who could be the 22nd, I’ll go with Troy Brown as your best option, with Kelley Washington or a random offensive lineman (Ryan O’Callaghan?) also a distinct possibility as a tight end in a goal-line set.

4. The New England running game. Laurence Maroney and the Patriots were able to bite off big chunks of rushing yards against the Dolphins (196 yards) and Jets (131 yards) the last two weeks, two of the five worst teams in the league at stopping the run. The Giants enter the game in the middle of the pack when it comes to run defense — they allow an average of 101 rushing yards per game, 11th-best on the league. Was the performance of the Patriots’ running game the last two weeks indicative of an upward trend, or were they just feasting against two porous run defenses?

5. New England’s red zone defense. The Patriots’ red zone defense has steadily improved over the last month (see below). After spending most of the season at or near the bottom of the NFL in red zone defense, they are now 22nd in the league. The Giants are in the middle of the pack when it comes to finishing off drives inside the 20, so it should provide New England with a good sense of where it is in that area as the postseason looms.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Zero. In the last three games, the number of trips to the red zone that have resulted in touchdowns for New England’s opponents. (The Dolphins were 0-for-2, the Jets were 0-for-4 and the Steelers were 0-for-3.)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Well, you know, being associated with Santa Claus — there’s a lot worse associations to have. I’ll take it. When you’re a kid, sometimes you dream about being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That’s not actually the one I pictured, but it’s pretty funny. Whatever sells.” – Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick on his appearance on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, which has him photoshopped into a Santa suit.

Christopher Price is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Patriots since 2001 for Boston Metro. He’s served a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. He’s written “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower,” and can be reached at [email protected].

Outside Foxborough – The Injury Effect, Part 2

logoby Bill Barnwell
[email protected]
 

Note: Last week, I mentioned that I would be discussing the offensive and defensive relationships to the injury data I gathered in this week’s column on Patriots Daily. The day my column went up, Willie Parker went down for the year with a broken leg, and it seemed natural to write a short followup piece on Football Outsiders discussing what the broken leg might do to the Steelers’ chances. In short, I mentioned that running back injuries have a very weak relationship to a decrease in wins or DVOA, and while they have somewhat of a relationship to a team’s rushing DVOA, an injury to a quarterback seems to have a similar relationship to the team’s rushing attack. You can find the full article here.

In the second part of my research into injury data, I looked at how injuries at different positions affected their teams’ performances, to see if it revealed hotspots for potential injury or tipoffs towards future success.

My findings were pretty distinct. I’ll summate them in order of importance.

1. Offensive injuries affect a team much more than defensive injuries.

This is a fascinating thing, to me at least. Of course, you’ll always hear more about an offensive injury because skill position players receive significantly more glory than most, if not all defensive players, but I was surprised to see that actually match up with their real importance as well. A team’s offensive injury rate has a -.37 correlation with their difference in year-to-year wins, while their defensive injury rate only has a -.23 correlation. Offensive injuries have a -.21 correlation with DVOA within a season, and a -.38 correlation with the difference in year-to-year DVOA, while defensive injuries are at -.06 and -.25, respectively. Essentially, what the data says is that offensive players are harder to replace than defensive ones.

2. Offensive line injuries are the most traumatic to a team.

Across all positions, injuries to the offensive line had the strongest correlation (-.30) against year-to-year wins as well as DVOA (-.33). That’s also likely to become stronger this year, when you consider the success of the Cleveland Browns following the return to health of their offensive line, as well as the impact that offensive line injuries have had on teams like the Rams and 49ers.

3. Quarterbacks are the second-strongest correlated.

Quarterback injuries have the second-strongest negative correlation with year-to-year wins (-.24) and DVOA (-.26). Does that mean that quarterbacks are less important than offensive linemen? It’s hard to say. I think there’s something to be said for the positional scarcity of quarterbacks, as well as the ability to hide a subpar offensive lineman with an extra blocking back or a tight end (which does, on the other hand, ignore the consequences that has on the offense as a whole, which come out in these correlations to a team’s overall performance).

It should also be noted, strangely enough, that while offensive line injuries correlate strongest with a drop in overall team DVOA, quarterback injuries (-.31) have a stronger inverse relationship with a drop in offensive DVOA than offensive line injuries (-.19). Whether that points to noise in the data or an effect of a team’s salary cap construction, I can’t say.

4. Linebacker injuries are the most difficult to recover from defensively.

Across the board, defensive back injuries are the least-correlated with success (perhaps owing to the Patriots’ success despite their mammoth infirmary behind the linebackers), and also across the board, linebackers have both the strongest relationship with year-to-year changes in wins (-.21) and DVOA (-.25).

5. Receivers are the most replaceable players in football.

I know, I know. This all sounds very silly when you consider the ’06 and ’07 Patriot offenses. But the data shows that wide receiver injuries have virtually no effect on offensive DVOA (-.02 difference year-to-year). Does that mean that the Patriots would do just as well without Randy Moss? Of course not. No statement is a hard rule. But all-in-all, wideout injuries are probably overspoken. If you think about guys who got hurt this year at wide receiver, have any crushed their team? Terry Glenn’s injury certainly hasn’t. Has Marvin Harrison slowed down the Colts’ offense? A little, but not noticeably. The Broncos passing attack was just as good without Javon Walker, Seattle without Deion Branch, and even arguably Houston without Andre Johnson.

6. Age has very little bearing on injury.

On offense, the average age of a team’s starters has virtually no relationship (+.02) with their propensity for getting injured. On defense, there’s a slight relationship (+.18). Overall, there’s virtually no relationship between the 22 starters’ age (-.04) and the team’s injury rate.

Of course, this research needs more data to munch on before we can assign it more reliability. Six years is a good start, but by this time next year, there will hopefully be twice as many injury reports for it to compare with success. If these findings hold up, the result could be some different guidelines for how to ideally construct a roster and use salary cap space, focusing more on offensive depth than defensive, specifically at offensive line and quarterback. We might be able to more accurately define replacement-level if we understand the propensity of players at a certain position to get hurt in a given season, which could have an economic effect on how those players are valued. For example, if the findings above were true, teams would likely be overvaluing a good portion of their wide receivers, whose absence from the team would have little effect on their team’s offensive performance.

Again, more data’s needed, but these findings are a very interesting first look into the effects on injuries across a whole team, and how success sometimes has more to do with random luck than some teams or media members would like to admit.

The Patriots/Giants Game Will Be Televised…

news.jpgBy Bruce Allen
Patriots Daily Staff
[email protected]

This Folks, as they say, is just in…

The NFL announced today that Saturday night’s Patriots/Giants game, which was originally scheduled to be only broadcast on the NFL Network and locally on Boston’s WCVB-TV and Manchester NH’s WMUR-TV will now be simulcast nationally on NBC and CBS in addition to the original outlets.

Check the mothership, BSMW for the full NFL release:

Patriots/Giants To Be Available to All

This comes as good news to those outside of the Boston market who did not have access to the NFL Network and who desperately wanted to see the Patriots go for the first undefeated 16 game regular season in NFL history.

College Scout, Bowl Edition II

logoby Greg Doyle
[email protected]

The college bowl season resumes on the day after Christmas and there are several very interesting games and many good NFL-caliber players to watch between now and Friday. Let’s take a look.

Thursday December 27, 2007

Holiday Bowl – Arizona State (10-2) vs. Texas (9-3) (ESPN 8:00 PM EST): The Holiday Bowl has traditionally turned out to be a very entertaining bowl game and this is one of the best matchups of the earlier bowls. Two very good and talented teams face off and offense should be in ample display.

Arizona State CB Justin Tryon (#4): A smallish cornerback with blazing speed. He was a JUCO player who transferred to Arizona State and started every game the last two years for the Sun Devils. Very dangerous with the ball, but also improved a lot in coverage as a corner this year. Picked off 3 passes and returned them for 122 yards, including one TD. Also defended 15 passes to lead the Sun Devils. Was a track star in high school and may be one of the fastest players in this year’s draft. Has the ability to return kicks and did that in junior college, but Arizona State hasn’t utilized him much that way.

Texas WR Nate Jones (#9): Came into the season low in the depth chart, but really developed as a senior when he got a chance (partly due to injuries). Caught a team leading 64 passes for 748 yards. Came into the season with only 29 career catches. Has nice size at 6’2″ 195 lbs. A smart player who was first team All-Academic Big 12.

Texas DT Frank Okam (#97): A huge defensive tackle at 6’5″ 320 lbs. who is adept at clogging the middle. Despite his size, does have some penetrating ability. At his size and athletic ability, he’d fit nicely into the Patriots 3-4 system. Could be a first round pick. Smart guy with good character. This is the type of player the Patriots look for, immensely talented but also versatile and smart.

Texas S Marcus Griffin (#26): Twin brother of Tennesse Titans first round choice Michael Griffin, who was selected in last year’s draft. Marcus Griffin is a three year starter who is rated by many as the top safety in this year’s draft. Known as a sure-handed tackler, but also has good range to play in coverage. Like his brother, an outstanding athlete who could play strong or free safety or even corner in a pinch, as well as being a fine special teams player. The Patriots reportedly had interest in Michael Griffin, they’ll undoubtedly look very closely at Marcus as well.

Friday December 28, 2007

Champs Sports Bowl – Boston College (10-3) vs. Michigan State (7-5) (ESPN 5:00 PM EST): Of local interest because of BC, there are many NFL caliber players playing in this game. Michigan State has lost several key players to ineligibility, as well as suspension, so it will be interesting to see how they handle that.

Boston College QB Matt Ryan (#12): If you follow football at all, you’ve heard about Ryan. It appears now most NFL draft observers have him rated as the first or second QB in next year’s draft. He could go as high as a top 5 pic, according to some. He is big and has a great arm and can even buy time in the pocket. Does a good job searching the field, but on occasion seems to lock on and miss the location of defenders, particularly on short middle routes. Does not get rattled by pressure but at times forces balls trying to do too much. Take the sack or throw it away Matt. Still, a very good prospect for the NFL.

Boston College T Gosder Cherilus (#77): Another possible first-rounder for BC, Cherilus is local to the Boston area and has had a fine career. Big, strong and athletic, he could play either left or right tackle. Has nice size and can use his arms to keep defenders at bay effectively. Dominated some good players at times. The Patriots would like a player like this because he is versatile, in that isn’t just one thing as a lineman he is good at. He has good strength, but also the ability to move and get out on screens and be athletic. That is what the Patriots look for in their lineman, not just the big guys who beat defenders up on running plays. They want some of both. Cherilus is that.

Michigan State TE Kellen Davis (#80): Big, tall tight end who has had some disciplinary problems. Had 28 catches for 475 yards, which computes to a nice 17 yard average. Was more heavily utilized in the new offense Michigan State ran this year. Kelly runs well and has good hands.

Michigan State LB Kaleb Thornhill (#41): A nice sized insider ‘backer that could play in a 3-4. Had a mildly disappointing season statistically, but is still a good prospect and has all the measureables. Could fit in the Patriots system. Will be interesting to see how he tests, but as of right now he appears to be a second day prospect. Reportedly runs a 4.6/40 so that is encouraging.

Other Games

Wednesday December 26, 2007 – Motor City Bowl, Central Michigan (8-5) vs. Purdue (7-5) (ESPN 7:30 PM): Played indoors in Detroit, this one could be a shoot out as well. Interesting to watch if the MAC team from Central Michigan can match up with the team from the stronger Big 10 Conference. Watch for Purdue CB Terrell Vinson (#34) who is a fast, but very small corner who had a top-notch year for the Boilermakers. Because of his size, may be a 3rd round slot corner type, but perhaps is talented enough to be more than that. Would be easy to envision the Patriots being interested in that kind of value, a good player with good tackling ability and lots of experience who may be undervalued because he is only 5’9″ 180. Picked off five passes and was Purdue’s leading tackler.

Friday December 28, 2007  – Texas Bowl, Houston (8-4) vs. TCU (7-5) (NFL Network 8:00 PM EST) The Texas Bowl features two Texas teams. In this one you’ll want to watch TCU DE Chase Ortiz (#93) who is a 3-4 outside linebacker type at 6’3″ 255 lbs. Been one of the best defenders in the Mountain West Conference for several years and had 8 sacks and 3 forced fumbles this years. Has played a bit in coverage so linebacker is not completely foreign to him.

Friday December 28, 2007 – Emerald Bowl, Maryland (6-6) vs. Oregon State (8-4) (ESPN 8:30 PM EST): Look for Maryland running backs Lance Ball (#44) and Keon Lattimore (#21) who split time and combined for about 1,500 yards. Ball appears a bit more talented, but both have good size and runs hard. Ball is a hard running 223 lbs. Both will get a shot in the NFL. Oregon State RB Yvenson Bernard also is a good, shifty runner who has had a good career, including being utilized in the passing game. Ran for over 3,500 yards in his career. Smallish, but runs hard and finds the holes. Was once drafted for baseball by the Minnesota Twins. Is probably a second day prospect, but his toughness and shifty running could make him a steal.

Niner Watch, Week Seventeen

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

I hope you all had a nice Christmas yesterday. But there’s still one present under the tree for draft watching Pats fans, to be opened next Sunday night. Let’s pick up the package and give it a good shake. What do we know? 

One thing we know: the Patriots will have a pick in the top ten of the 2008 NFL Draft next April.

Another thing we know: thanks to the Niners’ Shaun Hill, it won’t be picks two, three or four.

Another thing: no way the Pats pick ahead of the Jets, sadly.

Another thing: the Pats could pick as high as fifth, but they’ll need wins in the final week by the Chiefs, Raiders and Ravens, combined with a San Francisco loss, in order to do so.

Another thing: The Pats will not pick any later than number 9. The Niners are the only five-win team, and among the four six-win teams that immediately trail them in the Race to the Bottom, only Cincinnati has a weaker schedule (after sixteen weeks) than the Niners. In order for the Pats to slip to ninth, San Francisco must beat Cleveland while the Bengals lose to Miami.

Here’s the chart for week seventeen:

So there we are. For awhile, it looked like the Pats would turn the #28 pick in the 07 Draft into Randy Moss and the #2 pick in 08 (which would have had to have been the greatest draft trade ever), but then Hill came along and brought New England down to earth while lifting the Niners off the deck for the first time in their lost 2007 campaign.

Of course, there’s the school of thought that says the Pats are better off this way – the bonus money paid to top five picks can be onerous, and a team ends up paying front-line guaranteed Nate Clements-cash to a player that hasn’t proven anything. To this end, the recent upswing by the Niners may have actually helped the Pats to avoid just such a conundrum.

I suppose. Yet I can’t help but be disappointed that it won’t be the Pats on the clock immediately following the Dolphins when the draft begins next April. The booing by the Jets fans in attendance may have alone been worth the price.

Whatever happens this Sunday, the Pats will have their highest draft pick since they took Richard Seymour with the sixth selection in 2001. There’s still a chance for an upgrade, too – let’s look ahead to this weekend’s pivotal games.

GAMES OF THE WEAK

San Francisco at Cleveland – You made your point, Shaun. Throw us a bone here, will ya? In an oddity, the Browns can still get in the playoffs even with a loss, as long as the Colts beat the Titans in Indy. So I don’t know what the Browns are playing for here – other than staying sharp in case they get the chance to extend their season into next week.

Kansas City at New York Jets – The Jets presently hold the third pick, so you have to wonder what the approach will be here. A win over the Chiefs could drop New York as low as the eighth pick, the way I figure it. The Chiefs are one of the three teams that need to win in order for the Pats to grab the fifth pick. At the least, a Kansas City win will be sure to move the Pats ahead of the Chiefs.

San Diego at Oakland – The Raiders are another team that, with a win, could allow the Pats to move up. But the Chargers are still playing for the third seed in the AFC, which would allow them to avoid a wild card round matchup with the Jaguars. I’m not holding my breath here. 

Pittsburgh at Baltimore – Same deal here. The Steelers still have an outside shot at the third seed if they beat the Ravens and San Diego loses. Both have 4:15 starts on Sunday, so there will be something to play for through 7:00 p.m. Working in our favor: this is the Pittsburgh Steelers, so maybe they’ll stumble and the Pats will sneak ahead of the Ravens.

Cincinnati at Miami – The Bengals contributed mightily to the plummeting stock of the Pats pick by losing in San Francisco a couple of weeks back. The Bengals stink on the road, and a loss to the 1-14 Dolphins to close yet another underachieving season wouldn’t exactly be a shocker. If Cincinnati wins, though, the Pats will pick no later than eighth.

Let’s see what happens this weekend. We’ll be back with the final edition of Niner Watch next week.

Two-Face Pats

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The New England Patriots became the first team in NFL history to start the season with fifteen consecutive victories with yesterday’s 28-7 win over the Miami Dolphins.

It was also New England’s 18th consecutive regular season win, tying the league record they set in 2004.

The Pats were a bit two-faced in this one – New England’s blue-ribbon offense overwhelmed Miami with four first-half scoring drives before suffering their first scoreless half of the season with a curiously futile effort over the final 30 minutes.

The Pats defense remained steady throughout, locking down Miami’s passing game with a pass rush that sacked Cleo Lemon seven times.

A few leftover thoughts on the morning after:

*The big story this week was Bill Belichick jumping on the Patriots with both feet when they arrived to work on Wednesday, then forcing the team to practice in full pads for the rest of the week, a rare move at this time of the season. The concern was progressively sloppy play over the past few weeks that belied the team’s perfect record. The tightening down of the screws seemed to pay off in the first half yesterday, as the Pats came out crisply and with considerable emotion. Any hope that 1-13 Miami may have had to keep it close and steal one was quickly dismissed with extreme prejudice.

*Which is good, because in the second half, the Patriots offense struggled to possess the ball more than a few plays at a time. After a first half in which he threatened to tie or even break the league’s record for touchdown passes, Tom Brady was intercepted twice and stripped once, before giving way to Matt Gutierrez with four minutes remaining and only one TD pass needed to tie the record Peyton Manning set in 2004. A Gillette Stadium crowd that had waited patiently for the chance to see history would go home unfulfilled.

*Too bad Kevin Mannix retired – if he hadn’t, he’d be making the case for consumer fraud this morning. Which would have been hilarious – a pundit condemning the Patriots for NOT scoring meaningless late touchdowns. You know Kevin would not have disappointed.

*Randy Moss had two first-half scores (#’s 20 & 21) on expert short throws from Brady, putting him one behind Jerry Rice for the all-time mark for touchdown receptions in a season. In the second half, it began to appear that the Patriots were intent on getting both Brady and Moss over the hump. The Dolphins wouldn’t cooperate, surrounding Moss with as many as three defenders on practically every route. Brady tried anyway (emboldened by one second quarter prayer sailed directly through the hands of Lance Schulters, turning a sure interception into an easy 48 yard TD to Jabar Gaffney), resulting in one fugly second half that left the Pats looking like anything but a team pursuing history.

*Due credit for this goes to the Pats offensive line and some horrifyingly bad second-half pass blocking, particularly by tackles Nick Kaczur and Matt Light, who was just abused by a youthful-looking Jason Taylor. Brady was sacked three times and knocked to the ground on several other attempts.

*With the Pats dressing just one tight end (Stephen Spach), they were in three and four-wide formations all day. Once, when the New England defense turned aside a second-half Miami drive in the red zone, the Pats threw three straight shotgun passes from their own one yard line. Each one was incomplete.

*I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t try at least one handoff to Laurence Maroney on that possession. Maroney had broken two first-half runs of more than 50 yards (the second, a 59 yard burst on 3rd and 1 than ended in the end zone, was the longest of his career) on the way to his best game as a pro. I’m glad for the boost in confidence for the second-year man, but I’m even happier for some Pats run blocking that was damn near perfect on those plays. Heath Evans threw two high-profile blocks that allowed Maroney to race untouched into the Miami secondary, a thrilling sight.

*As expected, the Pats activated Troy Brown for their final home game of the season, and the legendary veteran dropped back on several Miami punts. He shockingly allowed one to strike him in the facemask, resulting in the Pats first turnover of the day (and an oh-so-brief benching), but later, a 28 yard sprint through coverage recalled the best moments of his brilliant career.

*As noted above, the Pats defense avoided the second half malaise of their offensive counterparts. Yeah, they allowed the Fins to average nearly 5 yards a carry, but most of that with a three score lead and the Pats guarding against a quick score. Otherwise, they held Lemon to under 50% passing and just 170 yards on nearly 50 attempts. Mike Vrabel, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Richard Seymour and Junior Seau all had sacks, with pro bowler Vrabel notching the highest regular-season sack total (11.5) for New England in nearly 20 years. Granted, the Pats will face much tougher tests down the road, but for now, their defense looks on track to begin the playoffs.

*Of course, there is the little matter of a perfect regular-season first. The Pats run defense will most certainly be tested in that one.

*That’s it for today. For all of us at Patriots Daily, have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, one and all. See you next week.

Sunday Links

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Patriots will try to become the first NFL team to notch a 15-0 regular season record this afternoon when they host the 1-13 Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.

It’s been a big week for our friends the Fins, who avoided a winless season with a thrilling overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens (again, the perfect team to hold the distinction) on Sunday, and began the next chapter of their history on Wednesday when the legendary Bill Parcells agreed to become the club’s director of football operations. The worst team in football is on a roll.

For some reason, this all put me in a reflective mood, thinking of our team, and the days not too long ago when they would struggle to win even one game, let alone fifteen. And how that all ended the day Parcells would return to football for the very first time, as coach of the (I couldn’t believe it) New England Patriots.

It gave the team instant credibility as a professional operation, which is something pretty precious, as the Dolphins have discovered. It gave the team hope, for at last the lost Patriots had an unflinching guide that could lead them from the wilderness.

Here’s the thing I loved the most about Parcells, as a fan – from his first day on the job, there would be no more fooling ourselves. No more delusions about the task at hand. If the Patriots lost, there would be no more cursing the fates, lamenting the breaks, blaming the refs, or anything else. If the Patriots couldn’t win a game, it would be because they earned it.

On the other hand, if the Patriots began to win, it wouldn’t be by destiny, or by answered prayer, or by happy accident – it would also be because they earned it, Monday through Sunday, with equal parts preparation and perspiration. It would be real.

Honest to God, I had been a die-hard Patriots fan for 26 years before I truly learned any of that. I have seen the game and the team in a completely different light ever since, which has only made me love them both even more.

Yeah, things happened years later that would cast the football messiah in a harsh light. Rightfully. And Parcells continues to be as mercurial as the weather, which can be alternately amusing and infuriating, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Still, if you love the game, how can you not love Bill Parcells too?

Speaking of coaches that have taught us plenty about the game, our colleague Dan Snapp passes along this link from Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star. One of the best and brightest sportswriters in the country has an amusing – and instructive – Bill Belichick anecdote from Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez.

There’s still Christmas shopping to be done (I know, that’s pathetic), so here’s a quick run through of the morning papers.

In the Globe, Jim McCabe talks with the 1972 Dolphins’ sub-committee for graciousness, co-chaired by Earl Morrell and Jim Mandich. Jackie MacMullan visits with Pro Bowler Mike Vrabel. Christopher Gasper looks at some more league records on the line today, and says a forecast of rain might ground the Pats again. Jim McBride likes the Pats by 17, and Mike Reiss considers the job ahead for Parcells.

In the Herald, John  Tomase claims that number 15 is already in the bag for the Pats. I’m pretty sure they have to play the game anyway. John adds some quick hits, and five things to look for today. He also has Scott Zolak on Parcells, while Karen Guregian wonders if the rain will put the ball in Laurence Maroney’s hands again.

Lastly, in the ProJo, Shalise Manza Young talks with Mercury Morris, who hasn’t been this famous for 30 years, at least. This guy is nuts – what does “you can only get your first home run once,” mean exactly? Jim Donaldson says he wants Scott Pioli to be his personal shopper this Christmas, and Willie Andrews tries to break SMY’s ‘Up Close’ jinx. Her subject last week, defensive back Eddie Jackson, was waived shortly after he was profiled. Careful, Willie.

I’ll be back after the game. Enjoy your Sunday.

Niner Watch, Week Sixteen

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Shaun Hill didn’t get the memo, apparently.

The Niners’ third-string quarterback, making the first start of his six-year NFL career, continued his efficient play (107.4 quarterback rating over the two weeks) to lead San Francisco over Cincinnati for its fourth win of the season against ten losses, dropping the Patriots from the 2nd pick to the 5th if the 2008 NFL Draft were held today.

The 3-12 St. Louis Rams, with losses to Green Bay and Pittsburgh since our last Niner Watch, presently have the inside track to the number 2 pick, followed by the Jets and Falcons at 3-11.

Because the Niners can now finish with as many as six wins, this week’s chart expands to fifteen teams. Note that we’ve included the remaining schedule for each of the Failing Fifteen in the far right hand columns.

So the question now is what Patriots fans can expect for the pick that New England acquired last April (along with the fourth round choice that turned into Randy Moss), in exchange for the 28th selection in the ’07 Draft.

San Francisco has two playoff teams on its remaining schedule. NFC South champ Tampa could still grab the third seed over West champ Seattle, though they need some help because the Hawks have a head-to-head advantage. Cleveland could clinch an AFC wild card spot with a win over the extremely accomodating Bengals this weekend, but could still be vying for the division title when they entertain the Niners in Week Seventeen.

Point being that with two motivated opponents ahead, it looks as though San Francisco is likely to finish with a 4-12 final record. If that’s the case, the Patriots will do no worse than the 5th pick they hold today. And by the way, that’s not a bad return for last year’s 28th pick.

But can they do better? Sure, but they have to hope for a complete collapse by the 6-8 Arizona Cardinals. The Cards will host both the 3-11 Falcons and the 3-12 Rams over the next two weeks. If the Cards – losers of two straight – go belly up over the holidays, the Pats could find themselves as high as #3 when it’s all said and done.

It’s possible, I guess – after all, Arizona has lost twice to the Niners. Further, playing that scenario out – if the 3-11 New York Jets also find a way to win one more game (the home finale with the 4-10 Chiefs is the best bet), the Patriots could wind up with that 2nd pick after all.

The Bengals showed us last week that these grand plans can all go awry when a turd surfaces in the punch bowl. Will the Cardinals cooperate and actually lose two consecutive home games to teams with a combined record of 6-23?

It seems unlikely. If I had to guess today, I’d see a top 10 that looks something like this (ties broken by strength of schedule, as usual):

1. Miami (1-15)
2. St. Louis (3-13)
3. Atlanta (3-13)
4. San Francisco (4-12)
5. Kansas City (4-12)
6. Baltimore (4-12)
7. Oakland (4-12)
8. NY Jets (4-12)
9. Chicago (5-11)
10. Cincinnati (6-10)

Maybe Arizona manages to lose to the Rams, who haven’t played that badly of late, and the Pats upgrade to the 3rd pick (and the Cards vault to the top ten).

How bad can it get? The way I see it, if Hill continues to revive San Francisco and the Niners upset both the Bucs and Browns, as many as nine teams can finish ‘ahead’ of them in the Race to the Bottom. Still not a bad return in exchange for the 28th pick, but a far cry from the second pick in the draft.

Of course, there remains a number of other possibilities, which is why we include the chart. Have at it.

Patriots Buffet Table – Dec 23rd Patriots vs. Dolphins

Patriots Buffet Table – Dec 23rd Patriots vs. Dolphins
BSMW Kitchen Staff
[email protected]

This week the Patriots are taking on the Dolphins. All I know about Miami came from watching Miami Vice and playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

All I know about Dolphins came from the Simpsons episode where the Dolphins turned evil and took over the world. Dammit Lenny, alcohol and nightswimming do not mix. You found out the hard way that dolphins are not the clowns of the sea. Well the Dolphins are not the clowns of the NFL, thats the Jets.

The Patriots won’t confuse the two, so the only thing Miami has over us this week is their weather. We’ll be looking towards their tropical climate and Cuban influences on the Buffet Table.

Cuban wings (serves 4)
2 pounds chicken wings
1/2 cup dark spiced rum
1 cup orange juice
12 ounces IPA
1 onion diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon crushed coriander
1 teaspoon crushed cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, If you have them substitute 1 large dried Poblano chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients except chicken in a large mixing bowl. Pour the marinade into a large ziplock bag. Add the chicken and push out all of the air you can before sealing. Move the chicken around inside the bag so the marinade equally covers it all.

Place the bag into a second bag, or a deep dish to contain spills and place in the fridge. Marinate the chicken at least 1 hour, 4 hours if possible.

Lay out the chicken wings on the grill. You want to be sure the meat at the joints is cooked and the juices run clear. This will depend on the heat of your grill and the size of the wings. Plan on at least 4 minutes per side for small wings, up to 7 minutes per side for large ones. If you’re going for large drumsticks instead of wings, those can take up to 45 minutes to cook through.

If you have a side burner, you can pour the marinade from the bag into a pot. Boil this for 15 minutes and you can then brush it over the chicken as it cooks on the grill.

We used Chicken Wings up above. If you’d prefer boneless chicken, either marinate chicken breasts whole, or cut into 1″ cubes. Marinate and put onto skewers for chicken kabobs. You’ll only need 1.5 pounds of chicken breast.

Time for a drink!
Even I have to admit there are drinks besides beer. One of those is the rum and coke. I won’t give instructions for this simple cocktail, but you owe it to yourself to try it with Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Navy Rum.

This rum is far better than any Captain Morgan or Bacardi – think of those as the Dolphins and Sailor Jerry as the Patriots. Eat some of the Cuban wings with a glass of this rum and coke and try to pretend you are in the tropics instead of New England in late December.

When it comes to beer, this week we’re going with the flagship of the American craft beer industry, India Pale Ale. India Pale Ale was brewed to stay stable during the long hot voyage from England to India. Normal beers would go stale or sour, but the higher alcohol level and higher amount of hops in IPA preserved it during the cruise.

In England the course of World Wars and changing consumer tastes have left IPA a shell of it’s former self. American brewers restored this beer style to it’s former glory, and have split it into English style IPA, American Style, Double or Imperial IPA, and even now Triple IPA. They’ve inspired some British brewers to make real IPAs again. Belgian brewers have gotten into the act combining the IPA with a Belgian triple to make Belgian IPA.

Any of the IPA types would match up with our wings, but the American style will be the best. IPAs are a good match for spicy food, after all they were first drank with Indian cuisine. They have the alcohol, crispness, and carbonation to cut through heavy, strong and spicy flavors. American IPAs have the additional benefit of citrusy American hops. An American IPA will not only be able to stand up to a strong spicy dish, but their citrus flavors will meld with the citrus used in the chicken marinade.

There are no breweries in Miami. There are no breweries in Florida that distribute to New England. So we’re in a true free agent week, free to pick the best of the best. Just leave some room, the ’72 Dolphins have a lot of champagne they won’t be drinking, we may have to down that in a month.

My pick is Smuttynose IPA, a citrusy beer of wonder packed with lipsmacking Simcoe, Santiam and Amarillo hops. I would watch a third game between the Jets and Dolphins if I got a 6 pack of this beer for watching. Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA is another good example. Their 90 minute IPA is in more of the Double/Imperial style and too strong for this dish. Sierra Nevada has their Celebration Ale out this time of year. Celebration Ale was one of the first American IPAs and I look forward to its release every winter. If you bought the Clipper City mixpack mentioned in the Patriots versus Redskins Buffet Table you’ve already tried Heavy Seas Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale. Thomas Hooker from Bloomfield,CT offers up Hop Meadow IPA.

The Tap in Haverhill, MA has their Leatherlips IPA available for sale in bottles in liquor stores, and also on tap at the brewpub. New England Brewing in Woodbridge, Ct presents a rarity, their Sea Hag IPA is sold in cans.

IPA is another style that is popular at brewpubs, almost all keep one on tap. Willimantic Brewing in Willimantic,CT brews many and keeps about 3 on at a time. Your local will most likely have one on tap as well.